AP Latin - Guide for Undergrads

This guide is meant to help incoming undergraduates transition to their Latin courses in college after completing an AP Latin course in high school. While the various levels and recommendations are based on the undergraduate program at the University of Texas at Austin, students as well as instructors at all levels can use this to understand how to succeed in their courses.

Dygo Tosa, The University of Texas at Austin

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How are college Latin courses different from high school Latin?

Generally speaking, college Latin courses are more difficult compared to high school Latin courses for three reasons: pace, vigor, and expectations. Still, a high school AP Latin class can be an excellent way to prepare for studying Latin at the college level. Note that the tips below are also applicable to other college courses.

Pace: College courses condense substantial amounts of required work into a much shorter amount of time. The first semester of a college Latin course typically covers as much content as two years in a high school program. Most college programs expect students to acquire proficiency at twice the pace of high school (1 semester of college = 1 year of high school language). Since an upper-division college Latin course may only meet 2-3 times a week, students are expected to translate and read large amounts of Latin text on their own. The following are tips that will help you succeed in a college Latin course:

  • Learn to summarize readings and course content by taking notes and reviewing them. Ask yourself: what did we cover today in class?
  • If you ever miss class, find out what you missed directly from the instructor.
  • Talk to your instructor if you feel as if the class is moving too quickly: many instructors have taught the class before and have specific strategies that work for their class.
  • Set aside time in your schedule regularly to do written assignments and review material.

Vigor: College instructors generally expect students to read larger quantities with greater attention to detail. Students are also expected to demonstrate a high level of proficiency. First- and second-year college Latin courses focus heavily on mastering morphology and syntax. In upper-division courses, you may also be expected to read academic articles or make use of reference material. This can be overwhelming at first, but the skills you gain through practice will help you write research papers in all of your advanced classes in college. The follow are tips that will help you meet the demands of a college course.

  • Take notes in the margins or on a separate piece of paper so you can ask questions during discussion. Instructors are more than happy to respond to emails about clarifying something from class or from the readings assigned.
  • Go the extra step: whether looking up a reference or following through on a footnote, raise your grade by helping yourself understand context.
  • Begin papers and other written assignments well before the due date. All major assignments are given on course syllabi so you can plan ahead to avoid stressful time crunches.

Expectations: It is typically much more difficult to earn A’s in college compared to high school. Courses require significant investment in time and energy, and even then, your performance may not be where you want it to be. Keep in mind the pace and vigor of college courses are meant to be challenging and your peers will be competitive. There are always multiple resources on campus, such as office hours, tutoring, and student organizations that can help you succeed academically.

Note that college instructors are generally less flexible with deadlines. Many classes have grades for attendance and take serious deductions for absences. Don’t let minor deductions sabotage your learning experience.

  • Read the syllabus carefully, know how your final grade will be calculated, and keep track of your performance.
  • Make sure the course is appropriate for your skill level by talking to the instructor about your background and whether there are other options.
  • If something comes up during the semester, whether a family emergency or struggling with your grades, let your instructor know. There are numerous resources and services around campus that are dedicated to helping students.

Most importantly: ask for help when you need it: unlike high school, there are rarely any early warning systems in college and it’s all too easy to convince yourself you’ll improve without taking substantial steps to do so. Just one meeting with your instructor can give you a better perspective on how to approach studying for a course.

A trend in many high school programs is to assign little to no homework during the week. This is not the case for most college courses; every course requires substantial work outside the classroom. Your success in a college course can often depend on just how much of the reading you can complete in preparation.

  • Do not wait till the exam to catch up. This does not work!
  • Use class time to ask questions about the assignments so the instructor can get feedback on what you and your peers are having trouble with.

What else can I do to improve my grades?

One thing that you may not have done in high school is meeting with the instructor for 1-on-1 advice or help, even when you are doing well in a class. Take advantage of office hours that are required to be held by every instructor. Most instructors are willing to spend time tutoring you if you come to their office hours and can provide tips on how to succeed in their class.

One strategy that has worked at all levels is forming study groups with your classmates and peers. By setting aside time regularly each day or each week, you can ensure that you are completing your assignments together. Often students who take Latin will choose to pursue a major or minor in Latin or Classical Civilization and you may end up taking many of the same courses as your classmates. Colleges also have student organizations that provide tutoring in Latin, such as Eta Sigma Phi and/or an Undergraduate Classics Association.

Which Latin course should I sign up for?

Most colleges award college credit for high scores on the CollegeBoard AP exam. Your adviser may also suggest you take a placement exam, which is one way to see if know your material. In the case that a placement exam is not available or could not be scheduled, the following is a general outline of which course you should sign up for:

AP Latin score = 5:

            4th semester or higher at the college level

AP Latin score = 4:

            3rd or 4th semester at the college level

AP Latin score = 3 or below:

            2nd or 3rd semester at the college level

Which section is right for me?

Ask yourself these questions and set yourself goals, before, during, and at the end of a college Latin course:

  • Which authors have I read? Which authors interest me the most?
  • How many lines of Latin can I translate in an hour? How many lines do I want to be able to translate?
  • Do I want to major or minor in Latin or classical civilization? What will I do with a classics major or minor?

You may want to email the instructor of a course to get a copy of their syllabus beforehand to find out what the expectations are. You can also contact the department offering the course to see if they have more information.

At the University of Texas at Austin

Students receiving a 5 on the AP Latin exam receive credit for:

            LAT 506, 507, 311, 312 --> Sign up for LAT 322

Students receiving a 4 on the AP Latin exam receive credit for:

            LAT 506, 507, 311 --> Sign up for LAT 312

Students receiving 3 or less do not receive credit.

            Sign up for LAT 507, 601, or 311


Students who have not taken Latin in the last two years or more are likely to benefit from the extensive grammar review which takes place in LAT 507.

If you took AP Latin but did not take the AP Latin exam, consider signing up for LAT 507 or 311.

LAT 506 covers the Latin textbook Wheelock’s Latin, Ch.1-25 (up to indirect statement).

LAT 507 covers Wheelock’s Latin Ch.26-40 and readings from Caesar’s Gallic War.

LAT 311 covers readings from Caesar’s Civil War.

LAT 312 covers readings from Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations.

LAT 322 bridges intermediate Latin (311 and 312) and advanced Latin seminars.

LAT 323 focuses on a single author and explores context and style.

LAT 365 involves extensive reading and research on topics from Latin literature.

The readings for these courses are subject to change each semester. Check the course bulletin to see the prerequisites for each course.

For undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin, you can also contact the language coordinator in the department of Classics:

            Prof. Jennifer Ebbeler,

How can I succeed in a college Latin course?

Here are some additional tips that can help you succeed in college Latin courses. All of these are attested from experience in either teaching courses or taking courses.

Buy and use a college-level dictionary

Most graduate students, high school teachers, and even many of your professors still have the dictionary which they bought during their first semester of Latin in college. A dictionary which is portable, sturdy, and has multiple definitions for each Latin word is essential. These multiple definitions often come from how different authors used the word differently in early or late literature. Some electronic dictionaries can be more comprehensive and easier to search, while others are very poor quality, and they cannot replace a solid printed dictionary.

Develop study habits early

It is an all too common trend for students who took Latin in high school to cruise through doing little work for a few months or even a whole semester, and then suddenly hit a brick wall with the introduction of new material. A significant portion of this shock comes from the lack of developed study skills: how to learn new vocabulary, setting a daily schedule for assignments, and getting tutoring if necessary. If this happens mid-semester, it can mean a jarring drop in grades and motivation. The best and only way to avoid this is to start early and complete all assignments from the beginning. Upper-division courses in college are never designed to be easy and should be challenging. Further, it will not benefit you to take a course for which you lack the skills to succeed in. Do yourself a favor by developing the skills you need for those courses when you have the time to spare.

If you are finding a course too easy, consider placing into a higher level class. Talk to your instructor and see if there are opportunities to sit-in a higher level course. If switching sections is not a good option, you can also become a invaluable resource for your peers by taking time and effort to help those around you. Studies in educational psychology as well as student testimonies have shown that teaching a language is one of the best ways to become more proficient.

Find ways to relate your background to the courses you are taking

Most high school Latin programs will provide you with a wealth of information about Roman culture, history, and mythology that few instructors in college will go over in detail in a language class. Make active use of your background to contribute different perspectives in class discussions and on your written assignments. If you read significant amounts of Caesar or Vergil in high school, a lot of Latin literature shares themes and context with those two authors and their works. On the other hand, if you feel as if you don’t know enough about a subject, talk with the instructor about books and resources that may be useful to you.

            Also, share strategies for studying which worked for you in high school. Things like mnemonics and songs for case endings stick with students much better than attempting to memorize all the patterns and explanations for grammar.  You may notice that many of your peers also took Latin in high school as well: make your school and Latin teacher proud by showing what you learned.

Translate without interlinear notes

One of the primary goals of a college Latin program is for students to be able to read Latin proficiently enough so that they can read without interlinear notes or translations. You may notice your graduate instructors and professors can pick up and translate Latin: there is no magic to this; proficiency is the product of extensive practice, review, and knowledge of the Latin language. It takes time!

            Many high school teachers will encourage their students to write out their translations and in some cases the Latin as well. While these are excellent practices within the first two years, it becomes impractical in college due to the number of lines students must read every night. Ask your instructor on how they learned to read Latin more fluently and have them share their strategies with you. One difficult but invaluable exercise is English-to-Latin composition.

Some last thoughts

This guide is not meant to be a complete guide for college Latin courses, but a set of constructive practices that have helped high school students successfully transition to college. If you have any suggestions, questions, corrections, or would like to use this guide at your institution, please contact the author at:

Dygo Tosa,

Special thanks                                              

This document was drafted as part of the Magistra Instructional Resource Website of the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. Funding for attendance at the AP Summer Institute was provided by the Marilyn White APSI Scholarship offered by the UTeach Liberal Arts program and a Professional Development Grant by the Texas Language Center. The author is grateful for all the support and feedback he has received from his colleagues, teachers, and students.